From Beaches to Botanical Gardens: Sarasota County Offers Many Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors

A multi-million renovation to Selby Botanical Gardens and new bayside park provide two new ways to experience nature in the destination in addition to the miles of beaches, state parks and nature trails

With 35 miles of coastline, state parks, a marine laboratory and aquarium, and more, Sarasota County is home to many experiences for nature lovers. There a several exciting new additions for 2023 that give visitors a new way to enjoy the beautiful Florida sunshine on Florida’s Gulf Coast.  
NEW FOR 2023
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to complete first phase of $100 million expansion
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens provides 45 acres of bayfront sanctuaries connecting people with plans of the world, native nature, and regional history. The gardens are celebrating their 50th year in 2023 with a multi-phase $100 million expansion, completing its first phase this fall. The expansion will make Selby Gardens, which is comprised of the 15-acre Downtown Sarasota campus and the 30-acre Historic Spanish Point campus, the world’s first net-positive botanical gardens. The Downtown Sarasota Campus, located on Sarasota Bay, is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the study and display of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads, and other tropical plants. The gardens focus on botany, horticulture, education, historical preservation, and the environment. The Historic Spanish Point Campus is one of the largest preserves showcasing native Florida plants and celebrates an archaeological record that encompasses approximately 5,000 years of Florida history. 
Brand new park, The Bay, offers scenic outdoor activity and wetland restoration
The Bay is a community, city, and park conservancy initiative that is conserving and transforming 53 acres of city-owned land into a signature public park that sits on Sarasota Bay. Phase one of the project, which was completed at the end of 2022, turned 35 acres of former parking lot into a blue and green oasis, celebrating nature and promoting environmental sustainability, including the preservation and restoration of coastal wetlands and mangroves. Phase two is expected to begin this spring, and includes the completion of the sunset boardwalk, resilient shoreline and canal district, which will feature restaurants and day docks. The Bay is home to other attractions including the Sarasota Garden Club, Art Center, Municipal Auditorium and Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. 
Sarasota County features 35 miles of coastline offering some of the best beaches in the world.  Visitors can visit Siesta Beach to experience its 99% crystal-quartz sand that helps it annually earn recognition as one of TripAdvisor’s Top Beaches.  Venice beaches are known as the Shark Tooth capital of the U.S. for the souvenir that can be found by exploring along the shoreline and celebrated annually at the Shark Tooth Festival each April.  Lido Key offers easy access to Downtown Sarasota as well as many shopping and dining options. Those looking for a taste of an Old Florida retreat can head to Manasota Key, where quiet beaches offer the opportunity to explore mangroves, hike and enjoy Florida’s natural flora and fauna.   
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Focusing on research and education, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is a nonprofit marine research institution comprising world-class marine scientists committed to the belief that conservation and sustainable use of our oceans begins with research and education. Originally focused on sharks, research has expanded to focus on the understanding of manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and coral reefs and on conservation and restoration efforts related to these species and ecosystems. Visitors to the aquarium see the 135,000-gallon shark habitat, meet the resident manatees and sea turtles, and explore coral reefs and other ecosystems teeming with diverse fishes, crustaceans, and sea jellies. Visitors can experience the wild watershed with habitats featuring river otters and alligators. Mote Aquarium is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (ACA) and has met rigorous, professional standards for animal care, wildlife conservation, research, and education. 
Myakka Elephant Ranch
Myakka Elephant Ranch is a non-profit conservation center, focused on educating guests on elephant conservation while providing a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience. The ranch believes that education combined with personal experience is the key to finding and creating lasting efforts to preserve endangered elephants. Guests to the ranch can participate in basic care of the elephants, such as preparing the elephant meals, feeding and bathing. Currently, the ranch cares for three elephants, two Asian and one African.  
Myakka River State Park
Myakka River State Park is home to 58 square miles of one of Florida’s oldest and largest parks. Established as a state park in 1942 and designated a Florida Wild and Scenic River by the State legislature in 1985, the only river in Florida to be recognized with this special status. The act provides for the preservation and management of the 34-mile portion of the river in Sarasota County. Several miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and along the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. Bicyclists can bring their own bikes or can rent one. For those who wish to hike, the Myakka Trail includes a 38.9-mile hiking loop trail through shady live oak and palm hammocks, sandy pine flatwoods, sunny dry prairies, and marshes teeming with life. 
Nathan Benderson Park
Nathan Benderson Park is a 600-acre community park, and world-class, multi-use sports venue. There is a 3.5-mile paved trail around the lake. The lake also features a permanent FISA Class A 2,000-meter sprint rowing course, the only one of its kind in North America. Other recreational activities at the park include non-motorized boating, fishing and birdwatching. In the spring, the park hosts the Sarasota International Dragon Boat Festival, featuring 200m, 500m and 2k race distances, as well as a Health and Wellness Village for participants and spectators can receive products and services to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

Oscar Scherer State Park
Oscar Scherer State Park is a 1,381-acre park and one of the best places in Southwest Florida to view Florida scrub-jays, an imperiled species found only in Florida. In addition to viewing wildlife, an array of other land-based and water-based recreational activities are available, such as canoeing, fishing, swimming, hiking, bicycling, and camping. Canoeists and kayakers can paddle along South Creek, a tidal backwater stream. Anglers can freshwater and saltwater fish from the creek banks or fish on the shores of Lake Osprey. The Lester Finley Barrier Free Nature Trail is accessible to those with sight, hearing, or mobility impairments. It has a wheelchair-accessible fishing dock, butterfly observation area and drinking fountain. 
The Legacy Trail
The Legacy Trail, which opened in 2008, is a 18.5-mile bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly trail system connecting communities across Sarasota. The trail offers rest stops and several areas to learn about the trail’s history or enjoy the surrounding natural beauty. Trail-goes can travel from North Port through Venice to downtown Sarasota along The Legacy Trail.
Lemon Bay Park and Environmental Center
Lemon Bay Park is a 210-acre nature-based park with 1.7 miles of shoreline on the Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve. Natural habitats of the park include a black mangrove forest, a mangrove fringe along the shoreline and pine and scrubby flatwoods. Within the park are nature trails, butterfly gardens and a canoe and kayak launch. Educational classes, guided nature and bird walks and other nature-based programs are offered throughout the year.